August 27, 2021 - 6 min read
This article breaks down famed hip-hop photographer Chi Modu's NFT project that was released two months before his death. His goal was to break down the barriers in the art world and he cemented his legacy by doing just that with this NFT project.
An NFT project hit my radar this afternoon that resonated with me so much that I sold an asset I was planning to hold for the long term to acquire one.
This does not mean you should buy one. It still means you should research, think for yourself, and not spend more than you can afford.
This project hit different for me because it was created by 90s Hip-Hop photography icon Chi Modu.
Sadly, Modu passed away at the age of 54 in May of this year, just two months after he did a limited release of his photography as NFTs on Rarible.
If you make it to the end of this article, there’s a really interesting nugget of information about this set that correlates to the lasting impact Modu’s photography had on hip-hop and some of its biggest stars at the time.
Lyfstyl.ca said that Modu’s “photos include some of the most groundbreaking, memorable images of that era, including Tupac Smoking and Biggie WTC (standing in from of the World Trade Towers).”
Let’s dive into Modu and his NFT project.
The New York Times wrote that Modu “defined 1990s Hip-Hop” with his intimate images of the biggest stars at the time — from Biggie to Tupac, his photography is nothing short of iconic.
And Sneaker Freaker magazine wrote that he was "responsible for some of the most enduring sneaker imagery from hip hop's Golden Age":
Born in Nigeria, Modu grew up in New Jersey after choosing to stay in the US to attend boarding school instead of returning to his parents in Nigeria.
In his tenure as Director of Photography for Source Magazine (an American hip-hop magazine), he photographed cover shots for 30 issues of the magazine.
During these shoots, he had a unique style as he was a self-proclaimed “documentarian” and was able to capture candid shots of artists, like one of his most famous photographs of Tupac:
He attributed empathy to his ability to bond with artists to capture them in vulnerable moments.
In an interview, Modu said that “you don’t have to be from the hood to photograph from the hood, but you must understand it.”
Adding to his legendary career is the fact that Modu photographed these artists early in their careers:
He shared that when he “first started photographing these guys that are today now icons my focus coming up was to make sure someone from the hip hop community was the one responsible for documenting hip hop artist. So I focused on these guys when they were young and early in their career to make sure to capture them in a way that no one has ever seen them before and make sure to share that with the rest of the world.”
In many ways, his photography transcended conflict between rappers.
Prodigy (Mobb Deep) had some beefs with Tupac during his career, but it didn’t stop him from sharing this post of Modu with Tupac:
Source: Hypebeast YouTube Channel
Modu has a rich history in the hip-hop world that would be impossible to capture in just one article. He didn’t just enter the hip-hop movement, he was part of it, as he describes in an interview:
“I became a part of this movement because I was the one showing people what it looked like.”
His work allowed us to live the hip-hop movement through photography and his legacy has continued because of that.
According to his website, his photographs have been licensed by Sony, Paramount, Viacom, New York Times, and he photographed album covers for Snoop Dogg, Method Man, Mobb Deep, and others. His work has also appeared in galleries and museums.
In early March of this year, just two months before his passing, Modu released a set of his photography on Rarible, which is now available for sale on Opensea.io:
The set includes 17 iconic photographs. 15 are limited to 100 copies each, while his two most famous images are limited to just one copy:
That leaves 1,502 photographs in the entire set.
He started minting his early works
It is also the first known NFT project to celebrate the original icons of hip-hop and we know how important history is in the NFT world.
Prices of the photographs in this project have jumped recently after it was rediscovered that the NFT project was listed on Opensea.io, one of the largest peer-to-peer marketplaces for buying and selling NFTs.
This project is enchanting in many ways, as it was released prior to Modu’s death, but also that it captured the essence of what he attempted to solve in the art world:
“The art world tends to be very exclusive and full of obstacles for both the artists and the public. My goal is to make art more inclusive by pulling an end-run on the galleries and the museums, breaking down the barriers, and bringing the art directly to the people. Like graffiti, but legal.”
NFTs were the perfect mechanism for Modu to break down those barriers and enriches the story of this project even more.
There’s a live digital gallery that displays these photos, that anyone with internet access can view:
Additionally (and I promised you this nugget) the metadata on the NFTs is frozen:
According to Opensea, “Freezing your metadata will permanently lock and store it on decentralized file storage, which allows your data to be accessible for other clients to view and use. This means, your item will forever be safely stored and will never be lost or missing.”
These photos will never be lost or missing. They will contribute to Modu’s legacy and his definition of success in the art world:
“If people are talking about your artwork 25 to 30 years later I think you’re successful.”
Well done, Chi Modu, your work will forever live on in the blockchain and you’ve removed the barriers for fans to be a part of your work using NFTs.
Enter your email address below to subscribe to my newsletter